History of the Institute
St. Teresa’s Convent, the cradle of CSST Institute, facing the beautiful backwaters of Ernakulam and the magnificent harbor of Cochin has had a humble beginning. The convent was established in 1887 as a branch of the Tertiary Carmelite Congregation known as the Third order of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel and St. Teresa. Since its origin was diocesan, its history needs to be understood in the context of the history of the church in Kerala and of the ere
ction of the Archdiocese of Verapoly whose prelate invited Sr. Teresa of St. Rose of Lima to start a convent in Ernakulam.
A young Indian Lady, Miss Grace D’Lima, was the providential instrument in founding this Congregation in the Church. Grace D’Lima came to Alleppey at the request of Fr. Alphonsus OCD to establish a school in his parish. While there Grace was impressed by the exemplary and self- sacrificing life of the Carmelite fathers. The zeal with which they worked for the spread of the Kingdom of God found an echo in her heart. She felt that she could work more effectively for the people as a Carmelite Religious. So she expressed her desire to be a Carmelite to Fr. Candidus OCD. Seeing her dedication to her work and selfless service he found her a fertile soil in which the seed of Carmelite Charism would take deep roots, grow and blossom. After a period of instruction and guidance first as a Postulant, then as a novice she made her Profession as a Carmelite Tertiary on 25th May, 1885 in the hands of Fr. Candidus OCD delegated by the Vicar Apostolic of Verapoly.
Convent at Alleppey
Sr. Teresa of St. Rose of Lima, the name which she was given at her vestition as a Novice, lived the religious life according to the ‘Regulations for the Nuns of the Third Order of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel’ given by the Carmelite Vicar Apostolic of Verapoly, Dr. Leonard Mellano in 1882.
young Sister Teresa, endowed with rich human qualities as well as gifts of grace, had the privilege of being instructed and guided in the religious life by zealous and exemplary Carmelite missionaries- Father Alphonsus and Father Candidus and later Father A. Benziger- who would continue helping her in becoming a fervent religious in the spirit of St. Teresa. She was happy in her vocation at Alleppey both as a teacher and as a religious.
The year 1886 was very momentous in the annals of the history of the church in India. On September 1st of that year Pope Leo XIII established the Hierarchy of India; and all the Vicariates Apostolic of India and Ceylon were raised to the status of Dioceses. Seven Dioceses, including Verapoly, were elevated as Archdioceses in India. Verapoly thus became the only Archdiocese for the whole of Malabar, and Dr. Leonard Mellano of St. Louis OCD, the last Vicar Apostolic of Malabar, became its first Archbishop.
In the same year the diocese of Cochin, which had been brought under Verapoly earlier was revived and reconstituted.
As a result Alleppey came under the newly reorganized Cochin Diocese. Hence all the institutions that were flourishing under the Carmelites at Alleppey were handed over to that Diocese. Under the new administration St. Joseph’s girls school at Alleppey was to be entrusted to the Canossian sisters from Italy.
Archbishop Mellano discerned the hand of providence in the new developments, and saw a good opportunity to start an English Medium School for girls in the fast developing town of Ernakulam, the capital of the erstwhile Cochin State. Accordingly, Fr. Candidus, who was then the Parish Priest of Mt. Carmel Church, Alleppey and the Director of the Carmelite Sisters, was given orders to come with Sr. Teresa to Ernakulam. Upon her arrival at Ernakulam Sr. Teresa received a double mission, of founding a religious community of Sisters and starting an English medium school for girls at Ernakulam.
Sr. Teresa was prompt in her obedience to the orders of the Archbishop. She took leave of her small community of sisters at Alleppey, the students of the School which she had so painstakingly and assiduously developed, the familiar, friendly and supportive environment and started for her new destination with her two step sisters and an orphan girl. Arriving at Ernakulam she set herself to work whole-heartedly in order to accomplish her double mission.
In a record preserved in the archives of St. Teresa’s, signed by Fr. Candidus O.C.D., Director of St. Teresa’s, the following statement is found. “St. Teresa’s Convent of Ernakulam was founded in a private house belonging to Mr. Lee of Cochin, rented at Rs. 10/- per mensem, on the 24th April 1887. But as the place proved unhealthy, the convent was transferred to the Church bungalow, in the east of the Northern Church on July 1st of the same year. Finally on 14th January, 1889, the sisters shifted to the new convent building, though only half completed…’
Mother Teresa had received the mandate to start an English Medium School for girls in 1887. Accordingly on 9th May- two weeks after the convent was founded – St. Teresa’s school was started with 31 pupils on the roll. It was the first of its kind in the erstwhile Cochin State. While the first beginnings were in a rented building, the convent and school buildings were ready for occupation in two year’s time. It was done as directed by archbishop, under the able supervision of Fr. Candidus OCD, who was the Director.
The sisters strove to make their teaching a fruitful apostolate, and to become themselves authentic signs of love and service to the people of God, especially to the poor, the underprivileged and the oppressed. Mother Teresa knew that poor children would learn more and better through their mother tongue since their parents would be unable to help them in their studies if these were in English. So she started Malayalam sections too.
The reputation of the convent and the school was not long in reaching the ears of the illustrious members of the royal house of Cochin. They were proud of the works of charity done by the sisters for the benefit of the poor, and were particularly pleased with the steady progress made by the Malayalam School. So great was the improvement that it was raised to the status of an Anglo-vernacular School and could present pupils in 1895 for the Lower Secondary Examination.
According to Mother Teresa, an apostolate of Catholic Education is as important and urgent as an apostolate for evangelization. She thought through the education of boys, the Catholic Church would be preparing self- confident defenders of the faith and perhaps even worthy ministers for the Church. For how can youth accept the tenets of the faith unless the Church helps in the enlightenment of their minds as well? And so she pleaded for a Catholic School for boys, and encouraged and supported the development of St. Albert’s School. She used all her influence to update it since she foresaw that it would play a momentous role in the growth of the archdiocese of Verapoly.
Thus St. Teresa’s community from its earliest years, was not bound in on itself, but actively participated in projects and undertakings which would further the growth of the local church. And so it expanded into an ecclesial group, earnest in the spreading of the Gospel to all, irrespective of caste, creed, economic status or sex.
Mother Teresa, a true daughter of the Church, a great visionary, seems to have forestalled the Decree of Vatican II on Social Apostolate, three-quarters of a century before the Council took place. She launched out on a vast programme of social activities and that, not withstanding financial difficulties. Her Christ-like heart reached and responded to the miseries of the poor around her. The social condition prevailing at Ernakulam at that point in time compelled her to undertake a variety of activities to bring relief to the suffering people around her.
The Caste System was a perpetual thorn in her side, as she strove to relieve the poor of their sufferings, she witnessed class distinctions – a vast majority of people living in squalor and misery and exploited by the rich landlords. Mother makes mention of ‘Pellayas’, a slave class of South India who cultivate the fields. Her heart was moved with the tenderest compassion for these social outcastes. A prophet in the true sense of the word, her lively faith saw the image and liken
ess of God in them and her zeal excited her to do all in her power to assist them.
Mother Teresa’s true charism is revealed in the orphanage, which is one of the main spheres of Mother’s social apostolate. The overflow of her love of God found expression in her love for these abandoned little ones. Mother Teresa’s orphanage embraced the children rescued from the most harrowing state. The children came in large numbers. Some lying by the road side in the early hours of the morning were picked up by policemen on beat, others born in Government hospit
als but rejected by their mothers and hospital authorities handed over to Mother Teresa. Many single parents driven by utter poverty and unable to maintain the children were forced to part with them.Mother Teresa welcomed all such children with open arms. These orphans increased in number and in 1894 there were 39 of them. Mother Teresa’s heart was in the orphanage and she would endure any amount of trouble and make any sacrifice for the orphans, for she considered this ministry not only as a work of charity, to feed and clothe the poor but also as a powerful means of improving future mothers. She took utmost care to train their mind by education, instruction in Christian Doctrine, practice of virtue and devotion to the Holy Eucharist and the Blessed Mother.
Our Foundress was constantly preoccupied with the welfare of her orphans and this led her to engage in an absorbing and troublesome work, the coir industry. The children were required to put in one hour’s attendance in rope making. The women were also encouraged to work in order to supplement their husbands’ income by spinning coir yarn at home. In starting this industry, Mother Teresa had a higher aim than mere income generation –she wished to keep them all fruitfully occupied. This constant preoccupation did the children a lot of moral good.
The Government appreciated the spirit of dedication of Mother Teresa and her community and engaged their services during the famine that occurred in 1897. Mother Teresa was put in charge of feeding the poor of Ernakulam. The food was cooked and distributed in St. Teresa’s Convent compound. The Dewan was immensely pleased with the service rendered by Mother Teresa and her community, irrespective of caste or creed.
She also started a small medical department which was a tremendous blessing for the poor children suffering from all kinds of illnesses. It was her cherished desire that the little Dispensary would one day, with the blessing of God, develop into a Charity Hospital.
Mother took up another important social service activity for the aged and destitute women. The sight of old women abandoned by their relations and lying by the roadside drew her attention and touched her compassionate heart and she immediately conceived the idea of founding for their benefit a Home where they could be cared for both spiritually and temporarily. Almost simultaneously Mother started the Magdalene Asylum for the young girls who had the misfortune of losing their virginity and respect in society. Mother’s zeal was aroused at the sight of these young women treated as “social outcastes”
Mother Teresa’s loving concern and compassion reached the prison walls too. With the special sanction of the dewan Mother got access to have Holy Mass in prison on March 19th, 1898. Mother’s vision penetrated the externals and the saw the human beings inside the criminal garb.
Mother Teresa placed herself at the disposal of the Lord to serve people in need and in distress, in difficult walks of life. She viewed their problems compassionately and tried to provide lasting solutions in a well planned manner. As a result she had constantly to face acute financial crises. Growing tension converged to a point. The convent needed money desperately. All Mother Teresa could think of, under the circumstances was to make a journey to Europe to procure help. Mother Teresa with Sr. Josephine left St. Teresa’s. They were to board the Madras- Bombay express which left the city on the night of September 12. The weather was far from favorable. Within minutes of their boarding the train, a violent tropical storm broke a furious demonstration of the north-east monsoon. Near midnight there was a fearful clap of thunder. The engine driver, all unaware that the bridge over the river at Mangapatnam had collapsed, had guided the train forward with assurance, and, with the exception of the last two bogies, it had plunged headlong into the churning and swirling flood. Mother Teresa and her sister helplessly went down in to the watery grave. Fr. Leo buried the two bodies and placed a cross on each of the graves in order that they could be easily identified.
Mother Teresa’s de ath did not, in fact, leave her sisters helpless. She had not only given them a solid religious formation; she had besides, afforded every one of them opportunities to develop their talents so that they could now shoulder the burden, although not quite so efficiently as their capable and highly gifted Superior. However, having actively collaborated in all the works of the apostolate with their Superior, trusting in the help of God, they set to work with determination to continue the work so nobly begun.
The little community had grown in course of time into a large religious family that has spread throughout India and other countries. The sisters strive to live their religious consecration and fulfill their task in the Church for the building of the kingdom with the same religious spirit that animated Mother Teresa and the first community. Ready to answer the summons of the Church, they endeavoured to live their religious profession in Evangelical simplicity, mutual love and prayerful intimacy with Christ. This was possible because of the dynamic leadership of the Superiors.
Archbishop Bernard appointed Sr. Margaret Mary as the superior of the Convent after the sudden demise of Mother Teresa. At the end of her term of office, Mother Margaret Mary was replaced by Mother Veronica (1906-1909). The next superior was Mother Pierre who held the office for three years (1909-1912). In 1922, were held the General Elections at which the Constitutions were revised in accordance with the new code of Canon Law. At thisGeneral Chapter, Mother Veronica was elected the first Superior General of St. Teresa’s, which was now raised to a congregation. At the General elections held in 1934, Mother Mary of Jesus was elected the Superior General of St. Teresa’s Congregation. Mother Alphonsus of the Mother of God was elected to the office of Superior General in 1952. In 1956, Mother Alphonsus had our Novitiate shifted to Whitefield in Bangalore.
In the General Elections of 1964, Mother Rita of the precious Blood was elected to the office of Superior General. At the General Chapter of 1976 Mother Bernardine was elected as the Superior General for the period 1976 – 1982. At the General Chapter of 1982 Mother Digna was elected as the Superior General for the period 1982 – 1988. At the General Chapter of 1988 Mother Yvonne Marie was elected as the Superior General for the period 1988 –1994. She was re – elected for a second term, 1994 – 2000. At the General Chapter of 2000, Sr. Victorine was elected as the Superior General for the period 2000 – 2006. She was Postulated for a second term, 2006 – 2012. Sr. Chris, the present Superior General was elected at the General Chapter 2012.
Our Thanks to Them!
They Cradled the Infant Congregation
Superiors of St. Teresa’s Convent, Ernakulam
There is no doubt that our Foundress who loved her Institute with the love of a mother watches over the work she commenced and recommends it daily to our Father in Heaven. May she keep alive that beautiful spirit in our Congregation.
There are now 820 sisters and 126 communities educating children and women, and serving the needy across India and abroad. St. Teresa’s Convent was raised to a Congregation in 1922 and raised to the status of Juris Pontificii in 1951. It was aggregated to the Discalced Carmelite Order on March 4, 1955. The dream of the Foundress was realized in 1925 when St. Teresa’s College Ernakulam was established as the first women’s college in Cochin State. From 1934 the Congregation began to spread its branches to other States and today the Institute has 5 Provinces spread across 13 States of India – Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, West Bengal, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and Delhi. Communities in the USA, UAE and Africa belong to the Centre.
Types of works and the main contribution to society
The main apostolate being education, CSST Institutions have played an important role in the empowerment of women in India. Besides academic excellence, our institutions have fashioned women and men with great social commitment and a sense of purpose that enable them to become the builders of society. The students who passed through the portals of our institutions have served society as writers, educationists, sports persons who brought laurels to our nation, political leaders, social reformers and activists, public service officers, and competitive entrepreneurs, religious, priests and even Bishops. Today CSSTs have 4 first grade colleges and over 100 High Schools and Higher Secondary schools.
Our social apostolate includes children’s homes, homes for the elderly, health-care centres, and schools for dropouts, community colleges, self help programmes, prison ministry, rehabilitation centres, hospice for the terminally ill poor, homes for the destitute. Our sisters work as social activists. Our children in children’s homes are helped and motivated to develop their personalities and live with a sense of self worth. They are encouraged to help others in return when they can and contribute their share to the common good.
We extend our service according to the signs of the times. Our sisters engage in frontline ministries in collaboration with the other religious groups as well as NGOs during natural calamities. The sisters join hands with the specific movements that address various social issues. We network with Government officials implementing various schemes for the empowerment of the marginalized.
The sisters are actively involved in the pastoral ministry especially in the mission stations in the Northern part of India as well as in Africa and the UAE. Our sisters render valuable service in faith formation of the children in various parishes. Through family apostolate, the sisters not only create a cordial relationship with the people but also become a part in their life journey. It is also a platform to empower the less privileged of the society.
Mother Teresa our Foundress read the signs of the times, foresaw the future, and oriented her ministries to eradicate the social evils prevalent in society and to create a culture of love, life and fellowship. It seems that her flame of life was snuffed out prematurely, but we, her daughters continue to carry that flame which she lit decades ago to the four corners of the world.